"It's not a run-of-the-mill cough," Parker says.
Whooping cough is a disease of the lungs and throat caused by a bacterium, Bordatella pertussis. The germ is very contagious and easily spreads from person to person through discharges from the nose and throat.
The illness is most dangerous in the first year of life, says Dr. Edward Arnett, a pediatrician with a private practice in Martinsburg, W.Va. The danger continues until about 6 years of age, he says.
The fatality rate is about 1.3 percent for those younger than one month of age, Arnett says. About 3 of every 1,000 cases in infants ages 2 months to 11 months are fatal, he says.
Adults and older children can get the illness, but it is not as severe.
You can have whooping cough and not realize it, Parker says. Symptoms include coughing, fever, malaise and vomiting.
About 5,000 cases are reported in the United States each year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Complications include pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis. One in three persons with pertussis encephalitis will die, and another one in three will have permanent brain damage, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most cases are in children younger than age 5, and half of those are in infants younger than 1 year old.
"The best prevention is immunization," Arnett says.
Vaccines include DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis) and DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, acellular Pertussis).
DTaP, the most commonly given, is made with only part of the whooping cough bacterium and causes a less severe reaction.
Immunizations are given at age 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 15 months, and a booster is given between 4 and 6 years, Parker says.
Incidences of whooping cough vary from year to year, Parker says.
"That's fairly typical for most highly contagious diseases - they sweep through the community, and people become immune to them," he says.
For example, 12 whooping cough cases were reported in Washington County last year, and so far this year there only has been one case, he says. In 1995, there were no cases reported in the county.
Cases in the United States have been running about 20 percent below those for last year, according to Parker.
So far this year, 4,367 cases have been reported. By the same time last year, 5,420 cases already had been reported.